ALL our city planners and managers seem to know about making Rawalpindi green is launch occasionally tree plantation and ‘beautification’ projects. That’s what PHA - the Parks and Horticulture Agency - did recently. But to what effect?
Today, the harried citizens of the garrison city find its “Make Rawalpindi Green” banners hanging in tatters, and the saplings it planted at such places like the median of the Benazir Bhutto Road are found withering away for want of care. Old citizens remember the days when the Murree Road was shaded by tall trees on both side. They were mercilessly cut down for urban development and larger volume of traffic when trees are most needed to keep city air clean from the fume-belching, polluting vehicles for whom the roads have been widened and flyovers and underpasses built.
Less said about the ‘beautification’ work done on some city roads and intersections the better. Most of the flower beds laid at key roads frequented by the upper class are barren, and potted plants placed gone - stolen. As were the eye-catching plastic replicas of horses and horsemen and cows.
Some carvings on the compound walls of the commissioner’s office and underpasses, depicting the culture of the country’s four provinces are in decay.
There is more ugliness to the beautification story. “Plants and flower pots were smashed or crushed during the riots over power shutdowns in June,” said PHA sources, claiming that the agency suffered Rs1 million loss during the violent protests. No wonder, Sardar Nasim, the local leader of the ruling PML-N, was nowhere to be seen to prevent damage to public property. But then he had neither been seen overseeing the work of PHA, a task the party had specifically assigned to him.
A senior PHA official glossed over the shortcomings in the authority’s work by pointing out that it was in infancy. The Punjab government reorganised PHA only last year and it will take time to make Rawalpindi an environment friendly and green city, he said.
“Our task is to improve environment, to build green belts and public parks, improve road medians and create public awareness by holding spring festivals. We could achieve 10 per cent of our goals so far,” he added.
PHA is hampered by lack of funds on the one hand while on the other near-retirement personnel assigned to it. “How can an old man perform the duty of a gardener and do other hard work,” he asked. But in the eyes of the citizens of the old part of the city, the PHA spent whatever funds it got on “so-called beautification”.
City planners have wrong priorities in spending the funds provided by Chief Minister Punjab Mian Shahbaz Sharif. Instead of planting flowers and trees, installing plastic figurines and landscaping on Rashid Minhas Road, Mareer Chowk, the money would have been better spent on repairing dilapidated roads, broken water and sewage lines, according to them.
Public parks and playgrounds are vital in promoting healthy activities among people especially for children but unfortunately the PHA seems less interested in maintaining parks and more in planting new trees - only to let them die. People avoid visiting parks because of their pathetic conditions.
People say the civic agencies should improve civic facilities rather plastic face-lifting at a few places.
“It is amazing that new trees are planted while those planted last year, and growing, are neglected. Instead of wasting money on statues and other works, PHA should concentrate on improving conditions of public parks,” observed Mohammad Obaid, a resident of Chaklala III.
In his view a round of the city hardly provides evidence that PHA and other civic agencies exist. “What is the guarantee that what is being planted this year will not suffer the sad fate of those planted last year?”
But the PHA has a few admirers too.
“Cultural pieces installed at main square of busy Mareer Chowk is a visual treat,” said Naeem Ahmed of the same Chaklala III locality. “In fact, the civic agencies should improve the historic Fawara Chowk also which is in a pathetic condition.”